Hi-fi quality sound is coming to motorcycle helmets after Cardo Systems, makers of the popular Scala Bluetooth helmet intercom, announced a partnership with hi-fi speaker company JBL.
The American company announced at last week’s Intermot motorcycle show in Cologne that the new speakers would be included in their Packtalk units from next year.
JBL is also an American audio company. They have been making high-quality, hi-fi speakers for the home, studio, concert venues and cars for decades.
For those who enjoy listening to music when riding, there has never been high-quality hi-fi speakers available in any of the intercom units.
I’ve tested many units and they usually sound like the music is being played through a tin can with high-end distortion and virtually no bass.
The problems are the acoustics of the helmet and the background wind noise which tends to cancel out bass musical frequencies.
These systems often sound OK when you are stationary, but they just sound awful when you are riding at 80km/h or more, thanks to the interference of wind noise.
I always ride now with Alpine MotoSafe earplugs that filter out the wind noise, but still allow you to hear emergency sirens, your exhaust and, of course, your music.
But the quality of Bluetooth intercom speakers is usually pretty awful.
It’s not a lack of volume, but the poor quality of the sound, the distortion and the lack of bass frequencies that is the problem.
But what can you expect from the small speakers they use?
I’ve replaced the speakers in my Sena intercom with bigger aftermarket speakers, but they are not much better.
Surely JBL will produce a decent speaker for the Cardo Packtalk units.
They are likely to have a bigger diameter to produce better bass, but that could present a problem with fitting into the small speaker recesses that most modern helmets provide.
Getting the best sound out of your helmet intercom is also a matter of positioning.
For the best sound, you need the speakers as close to your ear canals as possible.
Aftermarket intercoms allow you to position the speakers exactly where you want.
However, the helmet speaker recesses are not always in the right position for every type of head. I usually find they are too far back.
Helmets with integrated intercoms also don’t always have the speakers right over your ear canals. An exception is the Sena Momentum Lite Bluetooth helmet which has pretty good sound.
The other issue is comfort. You may get better sound with the speakers right on your ears, but they can become quite uncomfortable after a while.
The JBL speakers will have to not only be bigger to provide better quality sound, but also thinner and softer to maximise comfort.
We are looking forward to reviewing a set when they arrive next year.